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Rangers' win tightens up the East some more

by Brian Compton / NHL.com

The Rangers earned another two points by beating the Penguins 2-1 in OT last night.
WATCH: Drury's OT goal
Some random thoughts while we order a shoehorn for the Eastern Conference:

The Rivalry Heats Up -- As if the already-phenomenal rivalry between the New York Rangers and New Jersey Devils needed any more juice, things could become testy at water coolers all around the New York metropolitan area this morning.

The Blueshirts pulled even with the Devils for fourth in the Eastern Conference at 93 points apiece thanks to Chris Drury's overtime goal Monday night in New York's 2-1 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins at Madison Square Garden. While the Devils have two more wins, the race seems destined to go down to the wire. The teams face each other in the regular-season finale next Sunday at the Prudential Center.

Should they find a way to pass New Jersey by the conclusion of this regular season and gain home-ice advantage in the opening round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, Drury will be a main reason why. Monday's tally was Drury's fourth overtime goal this season and the 44th game-winner of his career.

"I never think of my game in that light," Drury said when asked why he always seems to rise to the occasion. "I just play my same game. Just go hard every shift."

Not only did the Rangers pull even with New Jersey with Monday's win, they also prevented the Penguins from clinching the Atlantic Division. While that's all but wrapped up, at least New York can take solace in the fact that it found a way to beat a Stanley Cup contender.

"We showed we could beat a team that a lot of people think can go all the way," said Lundqvist. "That's just a huge win for us."

One that has New York on the verge of clinching a spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. But until the Blueshirts are officially in, Lundqvist isn't about to gloat.

"I am not thinking about the home-ice advantage right now. I am thinking about making it," said Lundqvist, who made 21 saves on Monday night. "We have been winning and taking points, but we are still close to the ninth spot."

Close, But Not There Yet -- The Pittsburgh Penguins needed two points on Monday night to clinch the Atlantic Division. They had to settle for one.

Nonetheless, the Pens can clinch the division Tuesday night if the New York Islanders can find a way to beat the New Jersey Devils at the Nassau Coliseum. Pittsburgh is idle Tuesday.

"We would have liked to (clinch)," captain Sidney Crosby said. "We are now one point away. It's tight hockey from here on in."

The Penguins, who moved two points ahead of the Montreal Canadiens in the race for the Eastern Conference crown, return to the ice Wednesday night against the Philadelphia Flyers.

Montreal, which visits Ottawa on Tuesday evening, has a game in hand.
   
“He carried this hockey club for a couple of months early in the season. He's a goal scorer. If he gets opportunities, he's going to bury them.” - Don Waddell on Ilya Kovalchuk
A Reason To Smile -- Ilya Kovalchuk hasn't had many reasons to smile this season, but the All-Star winger continued a phenomenal campaign by scoring twice in Atlanta's 2-0 win over Tampa Bay Monday night.

With 52 goals this season, Kovalchuk has matched the career high he set in 2005-06. The Thrashers currently sit in 14th place in the Eastern Conference with two games remaining in the season.

"I just want to forget (the season) like a bad dream," he said.

That's understandable, but what Kovalchuk's been able to accomplish this season without a true No. 1 center still deserves plenty of recognition. Kovalchuk had 16 points (11 goals, five assists) in 15 games in March, despite his team's fate already being decided.

"He's had a great season," Atlanta coach Don Waddell said. "He carried this hockey club for a couple of months early in the season. He's a goal scorer. If he gets opportunities, he's going to bury them."
   
Contact Brian Compton at: bcompton@nhl.com.



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